It seems that 「思う」 can both

be "to think/consider" (actively) as in


and "to feel" (passively) as in


When reading an article in Asahi Shimbun, I bumped into a 3-line poem in which 「思う」 sounded quite ambiguous to me:



その人を私のように 思う

"I considered the person as myself"?"I felt the person was just like me"? "I thought of the person in my way"? With no context other than the rest two lines, does it really sound ambiguous?

2 Answers 2


"I felt the person was just like me" is the correct interpretation.

The author of the poem (passively) felt sympathy for the person waiting in a station skipped by express trains. Hence the explanation 「自分の人生は急行ではなく鈍行列車のようなものだ」.

Note: Actually I think the meaning of this poem as a whole is very ambiguous and difficult to interpret, and 天声人語's explanation is one of the possibilities. I found an article that disagrees with the 天声人語's explanation.

  • Many thanks for the article! I'm sorry that I meant to ask whether/how the 3rd line sounded ambiguous with no context other than the other 2 lines. I share my doubt towards the explanation by 天声人語 with the author of the article. However, I feel the explanation in that article still ambiguous regarding whether the poet was active or passive. But, wait a minute, I start to feel/think that my own feeling/thinking is in itself ambiguous as to being active or passive and the ambiguity of 「思う」 may correspond to that. That's what I'm thinking I'm feeling and what I'm feeling I'm thinking right now :)
    – null
    May 22, 2014 at 18:08
  • If no other context is provided at all, "その人を私のように思う" is quite ambiguous. "Consider the person as myself" and "feel the person is like me" is equally possible. If you want to be clear without context, you have to say "その人を私であるかのように見なす" for the former, and "その人は私と同じであるかのように思われる" for the latter.
    – naruto
    May 22, 2014 at 18:24
  • 1
    I agree with the linked article's criticisms, and likewise feel that チラリと見える is key to this poem, and I like the mention of "自分もまた他の多くの人にとっては、すれ違うだけの存在なのだ". I prefer the "I considered the person as myself" reading which encourages the reader to place himself in the viewpoint of this person who is entirely irrelevant to the author's life, and realize that he has a rich life of his own, and the author could have been the person on the bench, seeing his current self shoot by on an express train, and paying him even less heed.
    – Hyperworm
    May 22, 2014 at 19:27
  • FWIW, I found myself wholly agreeing with the blog author's comment: だが私には、この詩は「忘れえぬ人々」のようなものに思える。人生で深く関わったわけではないけれど、妙に印象に残る場面。なぜか理由もわからないが、ふと目にとまった人たち。 May 22, 2014 at 19:31
  • 1
    I cannot read the line as "I felt the person was just like me", at least literally, since that for me would be "その人が私のようだと思う". My reading is "I felt as if that person were me".
    – dainichi
    May 22, 2014 at 23:45

One of my dictionaries, Shogakukan's Kokugo Dai Jiten Dictionary, is pretty good about including etymological information. Poking around in there, I've run across two theories for the etymology of 思う that mirror the two broad senses you mention here.

  • On the one hand, the おも in 思{おも}う may be cognate with the おも in 重{おも}い. Compare the English "to weigh something" as a synonym for "to consider", or "to ponder" and its relation to "ponderous" (i.e. "heavy").

  • On the other hand, the おも in 思{おも}う may be cognate with the おも in 面{おも}, with an underlying meaning of "to appear on one's face, as an expression of emotion or thought".

The three main senses listed are:

  1. (はたから見た様子を示す語が上にあって)そういう顔つきをする。(気持を)顔に表わす。
    To have such a facial expression (when preceded by a word indicating appearance when seen from nearby). To express (an emotion) on one's face.
  2. 物事を理解したり、感受したりするために心を働かす。断定、推量、回想など種々の心の働きにいう。
    To use one's mind to comprehend or perceive something. Indicates various ways of using one's mind, such as judgment, estimation, or recollection.
  3. ある対象に心を向ける。そちらへ強く心がひかれる。
    To turn one's mind to a particular object. To have one's mind drawn in a particular direction.

The entry includes sample sentences from the Kojiki, Nihon Shoki, Man'yōshū, and Taketori Monogatari, showing that all three senses have been around for quite some time.

Looking back at the poetry in your question, 思う here doesn't strike me as all that ambiguous as Japanese, but it may get tricky in translation, as the conceptual network of ideas expressed by 思う doesn't have a single analogous node in the web of meaning expressed in English. Depending on context, it could be "think", or "feel", or "consider", etc. And, for that matter, each of these could probably be made to work in a translation of the poem above, depending on how the rest of the translation were worded.

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